Monday, October 31, 2005

UN, US, EU panel on Internet governance

Chatham House held an interesting lunchtime meeting today on Internet governance, that much-misused phrase. The speakers were David Gross, US Ambassador to the World Summit on the Information Society; David Hendon, current EU representative to the UN Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG); and Markus Kummer, executive secretary of WGIG.

The panel agreed that Internet reliability and security were the paramount issues to consider. The US felt that its current unilateral oversight of ICANN and hence the Domain Name System was the best way to ensure this stability, and to make sure that free speech continues to be a core Internet value. David Hendon admitted that the EU had been horrified at support from countries such as China and Iran for its recent statements that multilateral oversight of ICANN should be introduced. He did not seem to have a compelling reason for changing existing arrangements beyond the fact that many countries were unhappy with what they saw as US control of the Internet. Markus Kummer suggested that nobody had so far suggested a realistic alternative to the existing arrangements.

I don't think that the US government is quite the paragon of free speech that it suggests. It spent many years trying to restrict the availability of cryptographic software online, and recently tried to meddle in ICANN's decision to create a .xxx Top Level Domain after a letter-writing campaign by evangelical crazies in the US. If it is to retain ultimate control over ICANN, it needs to be much clearer over the limits of that control, and preferably exercise it through an arms-length agency rather than under the direct political control of the Department of Commerce. But the alternative of repressive states having any ability to impose censorship through the DNS is much, much worse.

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